Tories storm Canada to sell trade deal with Europe
Published Friday, April 27, 2012 10:41PM EDT
Conservative MPs fanned out across the country Friday to sell Canadians on a pending free trade agreement with the European Union and head off potential criticism.
Talks on a comprehensive trade deal with the EU are about 75 per cent complete, although significant hurdles remain to be crossed before ink can hit paper.
The federal government sent 15 cabinet ministers, three MPs and a senator to 18 events to push a trade deal with the 27-member EU and its $17-trillion economic engine.
The deal, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), would create the most wide-ranging trade deal Canada has ever entered.
International Trade Minister Ed Fast, who spent Thursday morning at Toronto's Economic Club of Canada where he told business leaders "trade is not for skeptics or scoffers . . . it's not for the weak-kneed or faint of heart."
While Fast said that the U.S. is Canada's largest trading partner, he told CTV's Power Play that the deal with Europe could be broader in scope.
"The largest common market in the world is the European Union," he said, adding that the area has hundreds of millions of consumers and represents a massive trading block.
"This isn't something that we should be sneezing at," he said.
Referring to the blitz by Conservatives, Fast said that the big roll-out is a way to share more information about the potential deal.
"We're explaining to Canadians the substantial benefits that will accrue to them as a result of us entering into a free trade agreement with the European Union."
CETA would encompass not only goods, but investment and services, provincial and municipal government procurement, something that has alarmed 32 cities across the country that want to opt out.
Fast said earlier in the week that discussions were moving at a "satisfactory pace" and he was optimistic a deal could be struck by year's end.
Toronto is concerned the deal will limit its ability to buy locally or demand a local component in procurement contracts. The city's council passed a motion in early March seeking an exemption.
But Fast said businesspeople are "risk-takers" who see advantages in free trade but warned there are forces in the country who don't want foreign companies to have market share in Canada.
"Sadly, there are still those who lack your vision," he said at the Economic Club. "They are the anti-trade activists who find great joy in spreading misinformation about trade and its role as a key driver of economic growth."
Fast also said the North American free trade agreement proved the arguments of opponents wrong.
The Conservatives claim CETA will generate an additional $12 billion in the Canadian economy and create up to 80,000 jobs.
Critics say CETA could cost between 30,000 and 150,000 domestic jobs.
Still, Debra Steger, from the University of Ottawa, said that the deal is significant because it deals with many "behind the border" issues.
"It deals with a lot of new regulatory issues that trade agreements haven't traditionally dealt with," she said.
Those can include environmental standards, professional qualifications and other key regulatory rules that differ between major jurisdictions.
"In that sense, it could be really a new type of trade agreement," she said.
While the free-trade deal with the U.S. in the 1980s stirred up emotional debate around job losses and sovereignty, the agreement with the EU has, so far, ruffled few feathers even though it can't be ratified without the approval of all 10 provinces.
Don Drummond's recent report to the Ontario government said the agreement could have profound effects on health spending and could affect key areas of the province such as hydro-electric infrastructure and its green-energy plan.
Issues remaining on the table include the Canadian system of supply management for poultry, eggs and dairy - which Europe wants to scrap or curtail - and a mutually satisfactory definition of rules of origin have not been resolved.
Rules of origin - determining what is a Canadian-made product - has emerged as a complex issue since some Canadian manufactured goods, particularly autos, are integrated in North American and global supply chains.
Agricultural subsidies are also the sticking point in Canada's attempt to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trading bloc and are a difficult political issue for Ottawa given the opposition from farmers in Quebec and Ontario.
The EU also wants copyright extension for drug firms, a change Canada's generic pharmaceutical makers oppose and critics say would increase the cost of drugs.
Fast reiterated the government wouldn't sign on unless it was convinced the deal would benefit the country.